Virtual + Reality: Professional Race Teams Use Simulator Training, How 'Bout You?

By Guest Contributor

February 26, 2019

The world of virtual motorsports has advanced significantly from the heady days of smash-‘em, wreck-‘em arcade games. In the last few years, commercially available simulator rigs with mid-grade equipment have become a viable introduction to wheel-to-wheel competition for the budding motorsports enthusiast.

Why Get Involved?

Understandably, the leap from virtual pilot to a participant in actual motorsports is as wide as the sea is deep but for those without the time, funding or both to get in real cars, it’s one way to scratch that itch without a large personal investment. Let’s face it - track time is expensive.

If you do have the budget for one of the abundant track days or “low-buck” racing series, you’d be hard pressed to find a major motorsports venue that’s not available on one of the popular simulator platforms. So why not do your homework and learn the track layout before you rock-up with your helmet and gloves? Trust us, your competitors and/or team mates will appreciate it.

Realism

Today’s sim-racing platforms use laser-scanned tracks to replicate in detail the track surface, sightlines, elevation and even the scenery. Baked into the software are all the bumps, cracks, curbs and other surface irregularities of the original track that all but the most basic steering wheel setup will convert those data points into vibrations that can be felt by the driver. In more advanced hardware, the simulated surface conditions will contribute to understeer, oversteer and other traction-loss situations. Acoustic transducers installed on a simulator rig will relay the thud of a curb, the rumble of the engine or the surge of a gear change for even more realism. Semi-serious sim-racers will have as many as three monitors set an angle giving them a wide field of view that usually includes the windshield and both side windows. For even more immersion, don a VR headset or HMD (Head Mounted Display) like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive and step inside your virtual cockpit.

Recently, iRacing – one of the most popular online simulator platforms - instituted dynamic weather conditions based on the time of day, temperature, cloud cover, etc….and as the ambient temperature changes throughout the day it effects the track temperature and your vehicle’s handling.

Manufacturer Support

Manufacturers like McLaren, Porsche and Mazda are sponsoring virtual-racing competitions that offer substantial prize money, career funding and even employment as a simulator test driver. Mazda’s Hotlap Challenge provide an opportunity for sim-racers to compete for a chance to test a Global MX-5 Cup car and the Spec MX-5 Challenge series for the NC model MX-5 have introduced their own online series called the Spec MX-5 SimRacing Challenge that offers the 40+ participants a chance at a driver development test at the Circuit of the Americas when the series crowns a champion in October.

Check It Out

The first of eleven rounds of the Spec MX-5 SimRacing Challenge takes place Wednesday evening, February 27, 2019. You can watch the action from the comfort of your armchair by visiting the Winding Road Magazine YouTube channel at 8:20 PM EST. The remainder of the Spec MX-5 SimRacing Challenge schedule is here.

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